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Perhaps you are a journalist covering the May 7 elections or the Oscar Pistorius trial – and will soon be immersed in Shrien Dewani’s adventures in our specialist niche of the honeymoon-tourism market.
You might be a TV continuity announcer-cum-journalist, circling endlessly between serious discussion about bone fragments, Nkandla’s fire retarding swimming pool, Numsa’s endless exit from Cosatu – and then back to Oscar standing up, Oscar sitting down, Oscar making gagging noises, Oscar weeping about how horrible and sad this whole business is for him.
If you’re very lucky you might get to do a colour piece on Zuma’s ‘shorty and the machine gun’ routine:
But after the 10th showing of that, between the traffic, Oscar Pistorius, the sport, Oscar Pistorius and the economy … and Oscar Pistorius, even you must be having to fight to keep your food in your stomach.
I understand the private honour in doing something deeply distasteful and humiliating when this is the price of earning a living. So, in an attempt to provide us all with some light relief, I hereby republish and rework some ‘cynical quotations’ I have posted on a few occasions previously. Apologies to those long time readers who have seen these more than once … but this is a public service I feel compelled to render.
These are from the excellent Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.
As we listen to politicians as we head towards May 7
People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck
There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694
An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.
Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923
An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.
Simon Cameron, 1860
In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.
Terry M. Townsend, speech 1940
That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.
Woodrow Wilson, 1917
Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.
David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
– P. J. O’Rourke
Should you bother voting at all?
Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
George Jean Nathan
… yes, but (and forgive the emphasis here on the over-cynical … and slightly fascist):
Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.
Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912
A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917
Parliaments are the great lie of our times.
Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896
Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.
Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken, 1916
On the ANC and the (infamous) liberal media
Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke – 1769
What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665
Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.
Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955
Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.
Thomas Fuller 1732
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.
H.L. Mencken 1956
A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.
What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.
An arbitrary comment about families
Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.
August Strindberg 1886
On love – and the current state of the ruling alliance:
The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.
Henry Haskins 1940
On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?
What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?
Bertolt Brecht 1928
A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.
Bloggers (as a sort of author-lite) – in an attempt to be even-handed in my sneering
An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His over-powering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized nations, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.
H.L. Mencken, Prejudices 1919-27
Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza provides the lead headline in today’s Business Day as “warning of a rogue state future for SA”.
So imagine if you could, for a moment, that you are playing a sports game.
As in a dream, you suddenly realise you don’t know the rules; you don’t know how to score, who’s on your side or what the parameters of the field are.
This could be a comical situation – and I am sure I remember boys from my school days whose mystification on the rugby, cricket or hockey fields would bring a gentle smile to our (his team mates’) faces.
But this is also the stuff of nightmares: an inscrutable world where what happens happens for reasons entirely mysterious, where people are motivated by incomprehensible impulses and the dread of the unknown builds and builds.
I am sure I am not alone in having worked in a dysfunctional institution?
I mean something worse than a j0b in which you are poorly paid and have a psychopath for a boss (entry level experience requirements for human adulthood as far as I can make out).
A dysfunctional institution is one in which the sum total of what the organisation achieves appears to be at-odds with its explicit mission.
I am suggesting something worse than an organisation that doesn’t achieve what it is designed to achieve. I am suggesting that in some instances a deeply dysfunctional organisation can, when everything is aggregated, achieve the very opposite to its stated purpose is.
Which brings me to the institutions of the South African state.
I am occasionally lucky enough to get hold of some excellent economic commentary written by Sanlam Group Economist Jac Laubscher and published on that company’s website. In his most recent contribution (which appears here) he takes some concepts from Why Nations Fail: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson (book I haven’t yet read, but will do so on the back of Jac’s comments) and hints at how they might be applicable to South Africa.
According to Laubscher, Acemoglu and Robinson suggest that the dominance of “inclusive institutions” over “extractive institutions” is the difference between success or failure of nations.
Inclusive institutions harness and unleash human creativity and incentivise citizens and workers to give of their best.
As Jac Laubscher summarises:
Inclusive institutions are characterised by guaranteed property rights (vital for investment and productivity growth), an impartial legal system that upholds contracts, the effective provision of public services to create a level playing field, space to create new businesses, and the freedom to choose one’s career.
“Extractive institutions” in the words of Jac Laubscher:
… are aimed at extracting income and wealth from one section of society to the benefit of another section of society, usually the elite. In fact, extractive political institutions are the means by which the elite enrich themselves and consolidate their political dominance.
It is a fairly simple matter to demonstrate that to some degree key state and semi-state institutions and processes in South Africa have become mechanisms for extracting wealth by the politically connected elite.
But a key qualifier here is “to some degree”. I don’t think the state has yet, unambiguously, become an extractive tool of the political elite. But it is obvious that at least part of the political elite is struggling mightily to shape our institutions to and for that purpose.
Yesterday I listened to Trevor Manuel deliver the National Development Plan to a joint sitting of parliament. At the same time the the Constitutional Court was hearing an application by the Treasury and Sanral to set aside the April interim interdict granted by North Gauteng High Court halting e-tolling and mandating a full review of the system.
My views on both Trevor Manuel and e-tolling are ambiguous – they both have their good and bad points – but I appreciate the subtlety and complexity of what the National Planning Commission has tried to achieve … and I celebrate the fact that we have a Constitutional Court we can trust with decisions like the one it was busy with yesterday*.
But the institutions of our society are not yet the corridors of the predators’ labyrinth – but we’d be foolish to ignore the signs.
* The Concourt matter is important for a number of reasons, but the aspect that interests me professionally, is part of what is happening is driven by the fact that the Treasury feels the need to defend its credibility as a borrower. I suspect that the rating agencies are happy that the Treasury is fighting this matter but are anxious that they might lose. The lender wants to be certain that the entity to whom it lends is properly able to make the agreement to pay the money back. The Treasury is ultimately arguing that the North Gauteng High Court ruling means no lender to the South African government can be sure that the courts might not declare, in effect, that government was legally incompetent to make the decision in the first place – significantly increasing default risk.
In case anyone was wondering if I had disappeared into the ether: I have been seriously busy and have had no time to post on the blog.
If you were paying extra attention, you may have noticed that a post reviewing the nationalisation of mines debate appeared and disappeared a few weeks ago.
My mistake – it was bespoke for a month, and I jumped the gun. I am now able to publish it and you will find it below.
Meanwhile I am into my second reading of An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New” ANC by Fiona Forde. It is exceptionally good and I strongly recommend you go out and buy yourself a copy. I have begun a review which I will publish here during the course of the week.
But meanwhile, here is the month-old nationalisation update/review. My views haven’t changed much since I wrote it … and it is good to get it on the record … even if it is a little turgid and written in an overly formal tone.
The nationalisation of mines debate in South Africa is, as predicted, reaching new heights of sound and fury. Yesterday it appeared that Cosatu was officially supporting the Youth League call. This is a situation fraught with danger although I do not change my assessment that the ANC is unlikely to decide on mine nationalisation along anything like the lines proposed by its youth wing.
- Yesterday Cosatu economist Christopher Malikane argued that the ANC has accepted as fact that the mines would be nationalised and that it was only a question of “how” not “if”.
- This does not imply significant new risk although the markets are likely to interpret it as such.
- In reality Cosatu is significantly divided on the call and current shifts in Cosatu policy have more to do with (important) internal conflicts.
- Cosatu does not have the final or even main say over ANC economic policy and its current flirtation with the Youth League is actually about frustration with not achieving its policy aims with the ANC.
- The ANC and its left wing allies have been consistent and steadfast in their criticism of the call and I outline the history both of the Youth League call and of the critique of the call in this report.
- The nationalisation call has consistently been deployed in political battles for power within the ANC and in government which both gives the call unrealistic political energy and makes the threat difficult to interpret or assess.
- The ANC has set its Economic Transformation Committee the task of assessing the call and making proposals. I expect clarity to emerge in November this year but a final decision will only be made at the centenary national conference in December next year.
- Cost, international agreement, the Bill of Rights and the constitution make it inconceivable that the ANC attempt to nationalise the mines.
- However I think the party and government will use the threat as a stick to get a better deal out of the mining houses.
- Between now and the final decision the “sound and fury” will keep the issue alive and the threat present.
Cosatu shifts towards the ANC Youth League
Yesterday Congress of South African trade Unions economist Professor Christopher Malikane was reported to have said at a South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry forum that the group charged with discussing the nationalisation of mines in the ANC had moved beyond the issue of whether the mines should be nationalised and is now purely considering modalities to achieve this aim. “Investors are looking for certainty around the issue of nationalisation, well this is the certainty they need,” he said.
The ANC Youth League managed to place formally on the agenda of the ruling African National Congress (at the party’s National General Council in September 2010) the proposal that government consider nationalising a majority share of the mining industry – for report back and a decision at the party’s Mangaung elective centenary conference in December 2012.
The general noise gets louder
With the ANC and government leadership mired in controversy relating to poor service delivery, poor government performance and accusation of corruption – and the Zuma presidency as weak as it has ever been – the ANC Youth League and its supporters in government appear to have seized the initiative and are making all the running at a public level. Investors and other observers would be forgiven for thinking that the slogan “Economic Freedom in our lifetime!” and the calls to nationalise the mines, banks and the land (that last explicitly without compensation) were not government policy. I am of the view that owners of mining equity and other property in South Africa are starting to feel the heat.
My view has been that the ANC is highly unlikely to decide to nationalise the mines – although uncertainty in this regard will persist right up until December 2012 (although some clarity is expected to emerge after the ANC committee examining this issue reports back some time in November this year).
I think that the party and government will attempt to use the populist surge to discipline the mining companies to fulfil their social and Black Economic Empowerment obligations under the Mining Charter (which arises out of the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act).
Additionally government and the party are likely to use the opportunity to change the tax and royalty regime to extract more revenue from the sector – particularly with the imposition of a tax on windfall profits.
Finally I think it likely that new obligations will be placed on the mining companies – especially with regard to some form of obligatory contribution to the building and maintenance of transport and power infrastructure near where the mining operations are located.
Brief History of the nationalisation call
The ANC Youth League on nationalisation of mines
Soon after the current leadership of the ANC came to power at the landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007 the ANC Youth League elected Julius Malema as its president (in April 2008).
By the end of that year Julius Malema and the Youth League began proposing that the mining industry be nationalised. This was the essential elements of that proposal:
* an immediate suspension of the issuing of mineral rights and permits;
* the establishment of a state owned mining company;
* the nationalisation – with or without compensation – of fifty percent of all mining operations;
* that licenses only be issued in future on the basis of a 60 percent equity stake being held by the state owned company.
The Youth League drew authority from the historic Freedom Charter document. The document, drawn up in a national consultative process led by the African National Congress in 1955 and adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown says of the economy:
“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.
Criticism from the Left of the ANC Youth League call
The major critique of the ANC Youth League call was formulated by Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (and major ANC intellectual and ideologue).
It is my guess that Jeremy Cronin was deployed by the incumbent leadership of the ANC in the belief that a criticism of the nationalisation call articulated by leading communists would defuse the Youth Leagues claim of militancy and radicalism – and I therefore cover these arguments in detail here.
Cronin argued that the Freedom Charter passage supports the idea that “the people” get the full benefit of the economic resources “not that there be a narrow bureaucratic take-over by the state apparatus and the ruling party’s deployees” (all Cronin quotes in italics in this section from SACP’s Umsebenzi Online Volume 8, No. 20, 18 November 2009).
The state owning important aspects of the economy says nothing, for Cronin, about whose interests are being served:
“Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s fascist Italy, and Verwoerd’s apartheid South Africa all had extensive state ownership of key sectors of the economy.”
So for Cronin the 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act had already gone some way to fulfilling the Freedom Charter’s objectives by explicitly stating:
“… that South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources belong to the nation and that the State is the custodian thereof …. In other words, it is the “nation” (with the state as custodian) and not the mining companies that have legal ownership of the mineral resources beneath our soil”.
Cronin argues that the Youth Leagues proposal of nationalising
“mining houses in the current global and national recession might have the unintended consequence of simply bailing out indebted private capital, especially BEE mining interests”.
And further that:
“Many of our gold mines in particular are increasingly depleted and unviable. Some reach costly depths of four kilometres below the surface. Recently the global gold price has bounced back, but it is telling that, unlike in the past, our gold output actually dropped by some 9% in the same period. Our gold mines are simply no longer able to respond dynamically to gold price rises.”
Cronin (while making it clear he thinks “the people owe the mining houses absolutely nothing”) points out that South Africa’s Bill of Rights sanctions expropriation but requires compensation at a price agreed by both parties or determined by the courts.
The bottom-line for Cronin is that nationalisation would do nothing to further the “national democratic struggle”. Rather it;
“would land the state with the burden of managing down many mining sectors in decline … burden the state with the responsibility for dealing with the massive (and historically ignored) cost of “externalities” – the grievous destruction that a century of robber-baron mining has inflicted on our environment. In the current conjuncture, nationalising the mining sector at this point would also probably unintentionally bail-out private capital, in a sector that is facing many challenges of sustainability. The problems of liquidity and indebtedness for BEE mining share-holders are particularly acute.”
Opposition to and support of Youth League call
President Jacob Zuma, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe (who is also SACP Chairman), and Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu have all explicitly rejected the ANC Youth League’s call – with Shabangu having famously said that the mines would only be nationalised “over my dead body”.
However despite this being the overwhelming position of the ANC and government, the Youth League scored a significant victory by having its proposal placed formally on the ANC’s policy agenda – achieved at the National General Council meeting in September last year.
At that conference Tokyo Sexwale (Mvelapanda Resources and Human Settlements minister) and Bridget Radebe (Mmakau Mining, wife of minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe and sister of Patrice Motsepe) both came out in support of the ANC Youth League’s call – giving some weight to the now widespread allegation that the Youth League is operating with a hidden and funded agenda to have failing Black Economic Empowerment deals bailed out by government.
Arguing against the call were leading ANC intellectuals Joel Netshitenzhe, Jeremy Cronin and Trevor Manuel. However the ANC incumbent leadership failed to block the Youth League proposal and it is now formal policy of the ANC to investigate the matter and report back for a decision to be made at the centenary National Conference of the ANC which will be held at Mangaung (Bloem) in December 2012.
The ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee
The committee tasked with formulating the ANC’s position on the nationalisation of mines is the Economic Transformation Committee – which has the general brief of investigating the role of the state in economic development and is the natural forum in the ANC to develop a position on nationalisation.
There is not much in the public domain about the proceedings of the committee, but it is my information that Gwede Mantashe is overseeing the work of the committee which is formally headed by Enoch Godongwana (deputy minister of Economic Development and ANC NEC member).
The contributors thus far include those from the ANC Youth League, Joel Netshitenzhe, MZ Ngungunyane, Cosatu, Floyd Shivambu, Paul Jordaan and the National Union of Mineworkers. The full text of the initial contributions can be found in the last five issues of ANC’s internal discussion publication “Umrabulo” (find those on the ANC website at http://www.anc.org.za/list.php?t=Umrabulo).
It is my understanding that those opposed to the nationalisation call – for the reasons that have already been summarised in this report – are attempting to craft a compromise that will allow everyone to save face while allowing government to wrestle a better deal out of the mining companies – as stated in the “My view” section at the start of this report.
It is my understanding that the committee will report back in November this year and I expect the markets to get an indication of how the debate will pan out then. However, it should be borne in mind that the formal conclusion of this debate will only be reached at Mangaung in December 2012 and the noise is likely to continue right up until the last minute.
Cosatu’s shifting sands
The major change of external inputs into my assessment has been a struggle within the Congress of South African Trade Unions that has resulted in a shift away from the federation’s original position which was closely aligned with the view of the SACP and the incumbent leadership of the ANC – as articulated by Jeremy Cronin above.
The last unambiguous statement from Cosatu on this general issue came in the form of a joint communiqué with the SACP on the 24th of June 2011- I quote it here in full:
“… periods of capitalist crisis are also typically characterized by various forms of right-wing demagogic populist mobilization acting on behalf of various capitalist strata in crisis, but often masked behind a pseudo-left rhetoric. We believe that the same phenomenon is apparent in SA, finding a potential mass base amongst tens of thousands of unemployed and alienated youth in particular. However, behind this populism are often well-resourced business-people and politicians seeking to plunder public resources. We resolved as the SACP and COSATU to close ranks and to expose the true agenda of these tendencies and their connections to corruption and predatory behaviour in the state.”
However, at the Cosatu National Executive Committee meeting a week later a split appeared in Cosatu that has impacted on this debate.
The conflict is complicated but in a nutshell, it is between a faction led by powerful Cosatu Secretary General Zwelenzima Vavi and Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) of South Africa and a faction headed by leaders grouped around the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) under Frans Baleni. Broadly the NUM/Baleni faction is supportive of the SACP and the Zuma leadership of the ANC while the Vavi/Jim/Numsa axis has become frustrated with broken promises (concerning both corruption and economic policy) of the Zuma/ANC leadership and would generally seek a more radical socialist or workerist political solution than is being offered by the ANC.
The Vavi/Jim/Numsa faction has over the last month begun courting the ANC Youth League, and attempting to harness the energy coming from this sector for its own ends. This is highly opportunistic as Vavi and Numsa have consistently characterized the Youth League leadership as “right-wing demagogic populist” and the League’s nationalisation call as fronting a corrupt BEE agenda looking to take a double bite out of resources available for transformation.
Rank opportunism or not, the crack in the Cosatu position is adding a new element to nationalisation debate. It is my understanding that the National Union of Mineworkers remains opposed to the ANC Youth League call, but the new element will undoubtedly add some confusion.
The point to remember about Cosatu – a point reiterated by the ANC and government leadership time and again – is that the federation represents a sectional interest. There are obvious reasons why some elements in Cosatu would want the mines nationalised – who wouldn’t want a guaranteed job for life as a Greek style (up until recently) government employee?
It is to NUM’s credit that its president Senzani Zokwana said in November last year that the Youth League was being reckless with the industry and that the League’s call was inspired by rich Black Economic Empowerment recipients looking to get failing deals bailed out by the state and Frans Baleni a month ago reiterated: “It is not only the private sector that has invested (in mines), but the workers with their pension and provident funds have also invested. We should have maturity and the debate should not have political undertones.”
It’s the law!
A key motivator of my view has been that South Africa is bound both formally and informally to agreements – including in the Constitution – that make it impossible to nationalise the mines without full compensation. Nationalising 50 percent of the mines would cost in the region of $130bn. There is no conceivable advantage – and an almost endless downside – for the government to nationalise the mines. Therefore it is not going to happen – although the end result might look like a compromise and might entail the establishment of a state owned mining company, although one with a much smaller asset base and agenda than conceived in the Youth League’s call.
Nothing material has changed that would allow me to change the view – although my confident smile has assumed a slightly brittle quality. Cosatu was never going to be the determining factor in this debate but the weakness of the ANC leadership – in particular the weakness of Jacob Zuma’s presidency – means that I am no longer certain that the centre of the Ruling Alliance can hold.
From the start the nationalisation of mines call has, in part, been a stalking horse for leadership challenges within the ANC and government. I have argued elsewhere that the call has been central to Tokyo Sexwale’s political ambitions and that he has covertly supported the Youth League in this regard for some time.
Now we have an element of Cosatu attempting to forge some form of alliance with the Youth League around the call clearly as part of a strategy to shift the leadership balance within the ANC.
The Youth League itself is using the call for its popular mobilization potential to help push its own candidates (particularly Fikile Mbalula – currently minister of sport) for higher office.
In this environment it would be foolhardy to be overconfident about the call. However it is my opinion that predicting the success of the Youth League call would be the same as predicting the imminent failure of the South African democratic project and state – a view I believe is too extreme and alarmist.
In many ways what is happening now is very much as predicted: the situation will be full of sound and fury right up until a decision is made at the end of 2012.
Arrived late last night in New York from London (and Edinburgh and Frankfurt) and the lag means I am only going to want to fall asleep at exactly the time it will be most unsuitable to do so.
I have been travelling (for Indian owned Religare Capital Markets, where I have a new berth) with the excellent Michael Kavanagh who is a mining and metals specialists. We have a story which interestingly balances the South African political risk (especially associated with nationalisation) and the long-term bullish outlook for platinum. We are half way through a global tour talking to fund managers who specialise in investing either in mining stocks or emerging markets … or both.
South Africans at the point of weeping and pulling their hair out because of the latest ANC Youth League posture, or the newest tender scandal or Jacob Zuma’s increasingly hopeless grasp on the complexities need to spend a little time with people whose job it is to compare South Africa as an investment destination with its peers.
Oh yes, they worry faintly about Julius Malema’s antics but their universe of comparison is huge and diverse … and if the worst comes to the worst the money they manage can shift very easily and early.
(Our parochialism causes us to believe) we have no-one with whom to compare our populists, gangsters, thugs and incompetents.
Trust me (or rather trust the fund managers with whom I have been speaking), ours are no worse than the equivalents in Russia, Brazil, India, China … and a host of similar investment destinations between which the money flicks and flitters.
One of my slides that might not charm a domestic audience causes nothing more than a wry smile here. This is par for the course for investors who concentrate on global emerging markets; some light relief before going back to worrying about whether Israel is going to bomb the Iranian nuclear fuels development programme or not.
We might as well smile – both because we are not as bad as we could be, but also because when you look further than the grotesque, our earnestness is almost sweet and crazy … to my mind, anyway.
I think both the DA and the ANC might be on the verge of an evolutionary spurt that will change what they are and thus see them shifting into new ecological niches in our political landscape.
I also think that the landscape itself changes much slower than we think or hope.
arism is a term for a species of political error – and I dredge this up from the gleaming days of my youthful involvement in the ‘mass democratic movement’ in South Africa. The taxonomic system we developed for naming and defining ‘mistaken beliefs’ was tiresomely thorough and self-righteous, but I have to confess that I still dip into that frame of reference and find there useful analogies and ways of understanding the world.
arism means believing that through pure force of will, cleverness of organisation, brilliance of strategy, accuracy of tactics and shear hope, anything could be achieved no matter what the inherent conditions.
I am convinced that the Democratic Alliance foray into the townships and squatter camps is either a form of volunt
arism or it will result in the DA becoming something else entirely – and ultimately something very similar to what the ANC has become.
This somewhat pessimistic view of politics is based on the assumption that politicians and political parties do not have a free hand to sell what they like to whoever (whomever?) they like.
The racial divide in South Africa and the racial solidarity of the groups which face each other across that divide is a deep structural phenomenon and not a casual consumer preference.
When Julius Malema talks about “the Madam and her tea girl” referring to DA chief Helen Zille and the DA MP and national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko he finds a resonance.
This ‘resonance’ is not something created by clever marketing and it is also not something that can be got rid of like Vodacom changing its colours from blue to red.
Groups of people, their ideology, culture and attitudes can be changed – particularly in the powerfully denaturing environment of modern industrial cities. This is how an African peasantry became the urban proletariat of South Africa’s modern capitalism. And it was this process that created the possibility of an ANC that represented all black Africans in the country and not just specific tribal groups.
But do not overestimate the power and speed of this process. Think of the ethnic boroughs in New York; think of the Xhosa/Zulu tussle in the ANC and think of the unbridgeable divide between the black and white experience in South Africa.
South Africa’s history, including colonialism and Apartheid, has a powerful momentum in our lives today. I think this means that the hope that the DA with more black faces and branches (but essentially the same ideology , structure and principles) could make a serious electoral challenge will remain just that – a hope.
A party still called the Democratic Alliance could displace the ANC, but only by becoming something very similar to its foe i.e. led by black people with a history of opposition to Apartheid and primarily about redressing the past, directing state resources to benefit black people and channelling wealth towards the emerging black elite.
The “rump” of the DA are good old white liberals (in the best sense of the word) who have their ideological roots in the closing years of Apartheid.
A party with such a “rump” will never (in any time frame that could be relevant to us) represent a majority of black South Africans – even urban professionals, even a significant minority. To represent those people the DA would have to be of those people, run by those people and be an instrument to further the interests of those people.
I do think urban African professionals are in the process of defecting, with disgust, from the ANC.
But I will be looking for a Movement for Democratic Change lookalike (to the ANC’s ZANU-PF) to emerge from the South African political dynamic.
That ultimately means I am still looking for an organised defection by the industrial working class and their middle class allies that will emerge from a split in the Ruling Alliance – that would probably put Cosatu on one side and the ANC on another.
On this basis the ANC could lose control of the cities to a political formation like the MDC – although not one that could be portrayed, as the MDC has been by ZANU-PF and by the ANC (which can already sense the threat), as having been funded and set up by white farmers and other ‘enemies of national liberation’.
There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong … that we have it within ourselves to escape the awful gravity of our history; that we really are free to choose our future.
My view, however, is that the choices we do have are all within a narrow band of possibilities confined by the deep structural features of our past and present.
Thus the ecology of our society and our politics remains the same – or at least changes extremely slowly – but the creatures that inhabit the landscape are modified by natural selection and drift and displace each other in the niches that are available to them.
(My next post will deal with the question of what the ANC is becoming as it changes its niche as the party narrows and shifts – geographically, ideologically and socially.)
This added after publication:
The über-troll of South African political analysis R.W. Johnson added this gentle corrective to the version of the above article published on Politicsweb: “Am I the only person astonished by the fact that Mr Borain can’t spell voluntarism ?” He’s quite right about this – as he is about so much – although he is usually also interesting. He was, appropriately, hanging out with the racist bullies in Politicsweb’s comments section, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his sneering tone.
The word is voluntarism (not volunterism, as I originally had it … I got it wrong because I mistakenly thought ‘we’ had made it up and I could therefore spell it as I pleased) and it means: “any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology” – from Dictionary.com.
I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.
The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.
In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.
I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.
Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.
(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)
If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy – fill your boots! ”
He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.
I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.
He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.
This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.
He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.
Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was looking scary.
And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.
I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.
I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.
Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.
I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.
President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.
Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.
The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism
I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.
For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.
At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.
The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.
It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.
This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.
Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.
Helen Zille also rises
My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language, is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.
Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.
Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes
I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.
There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.
The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.
Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?
I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.
The cacophony – let it stop!!
It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.
I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’ or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.
It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.
I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.
The rules are that a caller shouts out particular categories of people or people who have undergone a particular experience. When you are called you must leave the dance floor immediately.
There is no hidden political message – apart from the last line … and the silly part of myself that wishes they would all get off the stage – it was just an excuse to use the composite picture I just made and because I thought the poem might charm and delight some of you.
The quotes in the beginning are placed by Ondaatje himself in the original poem:
Elimination Dance (an intermission) by Michael Ondaatje
‘Nothing I’d read prepared me for a body this unfair’
‘Toll we be roten, kan we not rypen’
Those who are allergic to the sea
Those who have resisted depravity
Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs
American rock stars who wear Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters
Those who (while visiting a foreign country) have lost the end of a Q-tip in their ear and have been unable to explain their problem
Gentlemen who have placed a microphone beside a naked woman’s stomach after lunch and later, after slowing down the sound considerably, have sold these noises on the open market as whale songs
All actors and poets who spit into the first row while they perform
Men who fear to use an electric lawn-mower feeling they could drowse off and be dragged by it into a swimming pool
Any dinner guest who has consumed the host’s missing contact lens along with the dessert
Any person who has had the following dream. You are in a subway station of a major city. At the far end you see a coffee machine. You put in two coins. The Holy Grail drops down. Then blood pours into the chalice.
Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail
All those belle-lettrists who feel that should have been ‘an urine sample’
Anyone who has had to step into an elevator with all of the Irish Rovers
Those who have filled in a bilingual and confidential pig survey from Statistics Canada. (Une enquệte sur les porcs, strictement confidentielle)
Those who have written to the age old brotherhood of Rosicrucians for a free copy of their book ‘The Mastery of Life’ in order to release the inner consciousness and to experience (in the privacy of the home) momentary flights of consciousness
Those who have accidentally stapled themselves
Anyone who has been penetrated by a mountie
Any university professor who has danced with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Jean Genet
Those who have unintentionally locked themselves within a sleeping bag at a camping goods store
Any woman whose i.u.d. has set off an alarm system at the airport
Those who, after a swim, find the sensation of water dribbling out of their ears erotic
Men who have never touched a whippet
Women who gave up the accordian because of pinched breasts
Those who have pissed out of the back of moving trucks
Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor
Anyone whose knees have been ruined as a result of performing sexual acts in elevators
Those who have so much as contemplated the possibility of creeping up to one’s enemy with two Bic lighters, pressing simultaneously the butane switches— one into each nostril— and so gassing him to death
Literary critics who have swum the Hellespont
Anyone who has been hired as a ‘professional beater’ and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother
Any lover who has gone into a flower shop on Valentine’s Day and asked for clitoris when he meant clematis
Those who have come across their own telephone numbers underneath terse insults or compliments in the washroom of the Bay Street Bus Terminal
Those who have used the following techniques of seduction:
-small talk at a falconry convention
-entering a spa town disguised as Ford Madox Ford
-making erotic rotations of the pelvis, backstage, during the storm scene of King Lear
-underlining suggestive phrases in the prefaces of Joseph Conrad
Anyone who has testified as a character witness for a dog in a court of law
Any writer who has been photographed for the jacket of a book in one of the following poses: sitting in the back of a 1956 Dodge with two roosters; in a tuxedo with the Sydney Opera House in the distance; studying the vanishing point on a jar of Dutch Cleanser; against a gravestone with dramatic back lighting; with a false nose on; in the vicinity of Macchu Pichu; or sitting in a study and looking intensely at one’s own book
The person who borrowed my Martin Beck thriller, read it in a sauna which melted the glue off the spine so the pages drifted to the floor, stapled them together and returned the book, thinking I wouldn’t notice
Any person who has burst into tears at the Liquor Control Board
Anyone with pain
I am clicking “Publish” in a rush … I suspect I will come to regret this later.
The popular mobilisations in Tunisia, Egypt and a swath of authoritarian North African and Middle Eastern states are interesting and important for more reasons than can be named, let alone examined, here.
But the aspects that have fascinated me are the over excited “I told you so!” claims of pundits, politicians and much of the Twitterati.
And not just the assertion that they had this right all along, but that they somehow understand the clattering Nasserite dominoes better than anyone and would just like to point out that it’s coming to get you. Yes, you (insert name of political opponent here), the revolution is coming for you.
There are literally hundreds of “takes on the crisis” I would like to poke fun at and take to task over this absurd conceit, but there is one I will look at (only slightly) more seriously.
Blunt Blade’s Bollocks
Blade Nzimande takes George Galloway’s excellent communist tirade in his column in the Morning Star (read it, it is also bollocks and brutal and crass but has enough thought and truth in it to warrant a second look) and turns it into the obscure and rambling “Tunisia and Egypt: The deepening crisis of US imperialism and neo-liberalism“.
Where are the South African communists of yore who could always be relied upon to lift the veil, expose the skull beneath the skin and see the ape within the man? Oh yes, they are all dead or helping run the Department of Transport or become bloated and insecure plutocrats … hmm, is that everyone?
Blade has it that Tunisia and Egypt are manifestations of a series of crises in capitalism “and its contemporary neo-liberal ideology”.
In short (in as far as I can understand Nzimande) the USA as the global representative of the corporate/capitalist machine has fostered dictatorships in the Arab world because they have agreed to leave the USA’s good friend Israel in peace.
So far so good, but then things start to unravel. Political upheaval in these Arab and North African countries sets back the USA’s task to reproduce the conditions of capitalist accumulation – through an amazingly complex web of dialectical causality. Thusly, the selling of upsized McDonald’s meals to the American guest workers rebuilding (if they work for Haliburton) and de/restabilising (if they work for Blackwater USA) any countries the US has recently invaded is threatened, because democratic governments are more likely to take a hard line on Israel … eh … oh goodness, there goes the thread.
You cannot successfully characterise Tunisia and Egypt as “crises of capitalism” unless you take an amazingly complex and interlinked world and reduce it to a childish little model that even the crudest Marxists would reject as ‘reductive’ and ‘over-deterministic’.
If the term “capitalism” means the totality of international relations between states, global trade, the activities of local and international corporations and the shaping effects of culture, history and technology, then it is less than useless to characterise Tunisia and Egypt as “crises of capitalism”.
If the term “capitalism” refers (as I suspect it does, when used by Nzimande) to the secret set of rules in a secret club of greedy Americans who seek to control the world to protect and deepen their wealth, then I am sorry, but you can’t really be expected to be engaged with.
There are powerful and organised interests at play in North Africa and the Middle East and only a fool would not look to the USA for the sources of some of those forces. But there is also chaotic human activity and chance and rapidly unwinding and reforming complex systems that are part of what is happening and the blunt scalpel of Blade Nzimande’s theory takes us nowhere.
I would still recommend Galloway’s piece (as more insightful and the source of any interesting thoughts in Nzimande’s words on the subject) because part of what is happening in the Middle-East and North Africa is the unravelling of another mystifying US strategy to define, protect and advance its “national interests”.
What I wish the communists would give more attention to is not the greedy and rapacious aspects of US imperialism, but rather how it is often profoundly misconceived and poorly executed.
In my view human society should not be conceived of as “shaped” by particular forces or of being set on a certain “trajectory”. The totality of human existence is not an object (plastic and/or in motion). The totality of human existence – including the bits of it in Tunisia and Egypt – must be conceived of as a system so complex that making predictive statements is not hugely useful. Also, attempting to reduce the complexity to make it more understandable is a worthwhile endeavour only if undertaken with extreme caution and care. Cooking it up as proof that your side is winning adds no real value.
In as far as the statement: “what is happening in the Arab world is a failure of US imperialism” is true, I suspect the reason is that successive US administrations have misconceived both the nature of history (as has Nzimande) and the nature of their own interests – not an error Nzimande appears obviously to have made.
It is difficult not to imagine the tearing of some deep and important ligament in our body politic in the tone and content of this debate that starts in The Times, ostensibly between Pallo Jordan and Justice Malala and ostensibly about media freedom. The battle is joined – and complicated – by the ANC in its formal capacity in this unattributed article, by a reader’s reply to Justice Malala (K B Malapela’s article here) and a contribution by the redoubtable Paul Trewhela here.
My mother was taught at a Catholic convent in Johannesburg in the 40’s and part of the curriculum was a subject called “Apologetics”, which essentially means defending the faith and recommending it to outsiders. All of the contributions to this debate, to greater or lesser degrees, have the brittle quality of Apologetics. This is clearly not a debate designed to win over an opponent; it is much more a debate designed to slag off the opponent – to influence perhaps separate audiences.
This does not mean that the opponents are all just political propagandists rolling out set pieces in an archaic ideological struggle. The anger, hurt and perhaps even fear are real and personal. After studying each spit and snipe, each appeal to history and every egregious character assassination (of which there are many) I find myself uncomfortably ambiguous about where my sympathies lie.
When we strip out all of the detail, at issue is the clash of these two broad assertions (this is definitely my formulation – the actual words or even ordering of arguments – will not necessarily be found in this form in any single contribution to the ‘debate)’:
- The one view attacks Malala and defends the ANC – in the general context of supporting legislation to make the print media legally accountable. It goes something like this: ‘The ANC, admittedly imperfect and flawed, is the national liberation movement that led the struggle against Apartheid; the organisation whose members and supporters paid the overwhelmingly highest price in the struggle against Apartheid and it is currently the political party in which resides the main hope of building a South Africa free of Apartheid and its vestiges (which are still strongly present and primarily injurious to black South Africans). Given this truth, the depth and ferocity of Justice Malala’s attack on the organisation can only be explained by him having made a profession out of attacking the organisation for the benefit of a self-satisfied and confirmedly racist audience – or that he serves some darker and deeper purpose of enemies of South Africa.
- The other view defends Malala and attacks the ANC – in the general context of opposing legislation that seeks to control the media. This argument goes something like this: “The ANC has no claim to an exclusive role in the struggle against Apartheid and in any case the ANC’s contribution to that struggle was always flawed and undermined by deeply anti-democratic (or Stalinist) traditions and brutal repression of internal dissent. Justice Malala is part of a tradition of journalism in South Africa that has fought government censorship and general government abuse of power. Abuse of power, in various forms, characterises the ANC government today and it is right, fitting and brave for Malala to continue to ‘speak truth to power’.
I was going to paraphrase each article and attempt to draw out each essence but it’s probably better that you do that for yourself.
But here, for those who are interested, are my considered opinions on the issues that I think lie at the heart of this debate.
Firstly, regimes can reach a point where the only strategic option is complete non-engagement; where the only way forward is the destruction of that regime and its replacement by an alternative. But it is ludicrous to argue that this is where we are in South Africa with regard to the ANC government. Much of our political commentary and journalism seems to be phrased in these terms – as if we are all revolutionaries now, beyond any hope or care of reforming the system. This view is both implicit and, to a lesser degree, explicit, in the words of Malala and Trewhela. I am all for gung ho evisceration (by written word) of corrupt and pompous politicians, but there is a not-so-subtle line between vigorous – even exuberantly irreverent – criticism and the argument that government per se is the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. Many aspects of this government’s performance are deeply disturbing – as is the seeming avalanche of cronyism in our political culture. But I am absolutely clear that a government that continues to command around 70% of national electoral support (primarily because that electorate perceives the government as the main heir to the mantel of national liberation movement) has got to be engaged with, has got to be encouraged to be “the solution” more than it is “the problem”. And anyway the ANC, government, Cabinet and ‘the state’ in all of its manifestations is not some undifferentiated monster that requires slaying. The most important debates that shape our future take place within the ANC and the government as much as they do in the national media or in Parliament. Who wins and who loses within the ANC remains a decisive question that we cannot abandon as “irrelevant”.
Secondly, the ANC’s claim to legitimacy based on its historical role as the leading organisation representing black South African’s aspirations for national determination and in opposing Apartheid is a false claim. That the ANC was the main formation thrown up by Apartheid oppression of black South Africans is indisputable and that legions of its supporters, leaders and members fought bravely and suffered deeply is equally indisputable. But how often in the world have we seen claims of historical suffering and historical struggle against oppression justifying present corruption and brutal repression? The ANC needs to hear the claims of some journalists and commentators that the ANC of today represents a radical discontinuity with that ANC of the past. This is a legitimate assertion that can only be answered with specific claims to value based on present activities and achievements.
Too often the ANC’s claim to legend, previous heroism and fortitude, to banners and flags and songs, is the only answer it seems able to give to those who say it has become an unsalvageable cesspool of greed and self-interest.
The ANC needs to be reminded of the words of the great African revolutionary leader, strategist and philosopher, Amilcar Cabral (here I quote the first and last few sentences of this famous statement):
Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .
Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.
Claim no easy victories…
Reading Stephen Grootes’ tweets this morning while Jacob Zuma was delivering the Political Report at the ANC NGC was a little like listening to soccer on the radio – you had to rely on the noise level to guess at what was happening.
Grootes’ excellent commentary during the presidential address gave lots of attention to how loud the audience clapped.
Here’s one from about 11h30 this morning:
#NGC Zuma “Leagues subject to ANC discipline.” Huge applause. Malema sinks lower in chair. Something could happen here.
Or a little earlier:
#NGC JZ Also angry at people speaking publically un-mandated. Biggest applause so far.
And then near the end:
#NGC Zuma – juniors must respect seniors. Huge huge applause. ANC junior structures must respect senior structure. More clapping
I love this new world. I sat toting up the claps and concluded that both Malema and Cosatu had a bigger fight on their hands than either seemed to have bargained for.
My amazement and delight deepened when I was interviewed over Skype instant messaging by a senior business journalist about my interpretation of the vulnerability of the Rand given some of the agenda points at the NGC. Turns out she was sitting next to Stephen Grootes, and a group of other people whose tweets I was following. I suppose this could be either farcical or fabulous, it depends on your perspective. As it was we laughed together briefly, and electronically, which is to say there was a bit of lol and rofl on the side.
One other thing that delighted me about the cauldron of the meeting of the electronic universe and the flesh and fabric one, was this little set of Verashni Pillay’s funny and clever tweets:
I was in a student political body with Floyd Shivambu back in the day. I tried to get them to call me comradess. Didn’t take
And then a little later:
Gill Marcus wanders past, her trademark kaftan a sombre black. A statement on demandes to nationalise the reserve bank?
Verashni Pillay also noted that the Zuma’s Political Report seemed to have hit the ANC Youth League hard:
Cabal of youth leaguers laugh outside the venue but refuse interviews after the whipping they got. Lungisa conspicuously absent
And then, with guiless charm, she went on to say:
I’ve got to say ANCYL spokesperson Magdalene Moonsamy was looking very pretty today. Pity she’s gone So Very Quiet tho
Catch Stephen Grootes’s (apologies; the perils of editing under the influence of germs) Phillip de Wet’s review article in the Daily Maverick here – (I like the article and the headline.)
That’s a pity, because his comments were more sensible and readable than those of his comrades – although still misguided and, ultimately, dangerous, as I shall argue.
It’s difficult not to lump into one basket the various hostilities emanating from government and the ruling alliance towards the media.
Aside from the aforementioned arrest, and several high-profile verbal attacks on the press, there is the Protection of Information Bill wending its way through parliament and the ANC’s own proposed ‘media tribunal’ up for discussion at that organisation’s National General Council in a few weeks time.
Here for a link to the ANC’s extraordinarily badly written and poorly argued document (Media Diversity and Ownership) proposing the media tribunal. Here is Jeremy Gordon’s irritated criticism of the document on the happily trending rightward Politicsweb. Here, for those with time on their hands, is the tedious Protection of Information Bill.
I think the impression that the ANC and government are engaged in a concerted effort to make the media more compliant is indisputable. The fact that they are doing what governments, ruling parties and “the powerful” do in all places and at all times does not mean they should not be criticised and watched carefully and suspiciously. It just means that we should be less breathless and astonished when we do the criticising and watching.
So before Cronin’s piece gets drowned out by the sound of jackboots let us examine the points he makes.
Firstly he correctly points out that the major newspapers have had a nasty few weeks – he mentions Business Day apologising to General Nyanda for shoddy journalism in a story “alleging intended corruption in the suspension of his Director General”. He points out that The Times carried an apology for a story alleging that Blade Nzimande had called for the jailing of journalists (catch a cached version of the original stupid story here – frankly The Times deserves whatever punishment they it gets for that trashy headline!)
Cronin interestingly chooses not to mention the City Press being forced by the Ombudsman to apologise to ANC Treasurer General Mathews Phosa – see that here. It is possible that his deadline missed the release of the Ombudsman’s order, but he may not have mentioned it anyway because his point is that the self-regulatory mechanisms are inadequate – that what we need is a tribunal answerable to parliament.
Where Cronin deserves credit is he then lists the various problems he and his comrades have with the media that a media tribunal is not designed to address:
- the “narrowly anti-ANC oppositionist stance” of much of the “print media”;
- failing to balance the “watch-dog” role with other roles like providing “ordinary citizens with accurate information”;
- the centralised ownership of big newspaper “corporations” (a matter he thinks would be better addressed by the Competitions Commission);
- The foreign ownership, especially of the “Independent” newspapers, which has resulted in working capital draining out of these organisations to support loss making operations in other countries;
- the “trashy tabloid” character of much of the print media, that results from the profit imperative being imposed on the newsrooms.
For Cronin, the ‘media tribunal’ is somewhere that:
… members of the public, including (but not only) high-profile personalities, can take concerns around grievous misrepresentation and unethical reporting …
without having to go to the expense and difficulties of the courts.
Now if that was all there was to it we would all pat Jeremy (Cronin, not Gordin) warmly on the back and add our support to the tribunal. There are two linked issues, however, that I would like to take up with Cronin.
Firstly the tribunal is not argued in anything like the terms that Cronin argues in the gigabytes of documents and criticism that come from his comrades and their various organisations – just throw your eye (as certain South Africans are wont to say) over the aforementioned execrable Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity document. In amongst all the bullying and bombast is every single argument that Cronin disavows.
So are we meant to accept the media tribunal for the sensible reason that Cronin advances or reject it for the outrageous and dangerous reasons his comrades advance?
The second issue I wish to take up with Jeremy Cronin is more subtle but actually gets my goat in a more profound way. In a thousand different ways Cronin presents himself and the ANC as the wronged victim of the powerful, centralised, foreign owned and corporate print media. This is big business imposing its arrogant will on the democratic movements of the people and the workers.
That is, quite frankly, rubbish. It is time that Cronin woke up to the reality that he is the powerful one and/or the representative of the powerful. I get that big business is going to be selling its line into the public consciousness every chance it gets, but it will take a lot more than Cronin’s innocent belief in his own good intentions and the good intentions of his comrades to convince me that they are, in fact, not the bigger of the problems that confront us and our media.
How to explain the decision to start a review of the parastatals by a presidential committee just as Public Enterprises minister Barbara Hogan was busy with that job?
When anything in our country seems confusing it is always useful to abide by the famous injunction from Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat‘: follow the money.
The raison d’être of the new political/economic elite – the thing that brought it into being and the thing that sustains and grows it – is the opportunity to take rents out of the economy. The overwhelming bulk of the low-hanging fruit in this endeavour is in the public sector – specifically in senior management positions and the multi billion dollar expenditure of the Parastatals.
Now if what you are/what you do is sheep stealing you don’t want an independent and famously incorruptible shepherd tending the flock. Far easier to give the job to a few of your wolf mates.
There are times and places when history feels like it is just meandering along minding its own business.
South Africa today is not one of those places or times. Here history is being driven and whipped along by an evil monkey on its back.
This particular evil monkey is none other than the squabble to harness the state to the task of personal accumulation.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, writing in The Communist Manifesto in 1848 said:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.
The “class struggle” shaping our course would have seemed a little eccentric to Karl Marx. There is no simple division into proletariat, bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie – with the aristocracy fading into oblivion and the lumpen-proletariat skulking along the edges.
Here you have an elite that has emerged through leveraging political power – in exactly the same way as the local representatives of the previous political oppressors (the Afrikaner Nationalists) did from 1948.
The Afrikaner nationalists began to lose young Afrikaners (at a greater rate than before) from the early 80’s. The reasons are complex but using the state to advance the economic interests of a political/ethnic group deadens creativity, grows authoritarianism and the stultifying effects of patronage drowns cultural growth.
I suspect exactly the same thing is happening in the ruling party.
For an excellent review of the shenanigans in Public Enterprises read Christelle Terreblanche’s article from the Sunday Independent here. For a brilliant – and quite moving – overview of the growth of what I elsewhere call Vampire Capitalism, read Moeletsi Mbeki’s Architects of Poverty – which I review here.